A notice from the IRS this week about a delay in processing tax returns caused Hutchinson tax preparer Mary Starks to audibly groan.
The federal agency announced Tuesday, due to the late action by Congress in approving tax laws, it won't begin processing federal income tax returns until Jan. 30.
That means, said Starks, franchise owner of the H&R Block offices in Hutchinson, Ellsworth and Lyons, many of her customers used to getting tax refunds in early February won't see them until the end of the month or later.
For some taxpayers, necessary tax forms won't even be available until February or even March, pushing refunds months further out.
"My fear is they're (customers) going to think it's my fault," Starks said. "It's not. It's beyond our control."
It also will likely mean a normal lull in business between a peak in personal tax filings in February and business filings in March won't occur, with filings compacted into a shorter timeframe.
The IRS has not indicated any plans to extend the April 15 tax filing deadline.
"Taxpayers who are unable to file by the April 15 tax filing deadline may request a six-month automatic extension of time to file, to October 15," said IRS spokesman Michael Devine.
Starks hopes the bad news for some will be offset by good news that a number of tax breaks scheduled and expected to expire will instead be available at least one more year.
The reason for the delay in accepting returns, of course, is that Congress didn't adopt its final tax laws for 2012 until Jan. 1, while debating how to avoid the "fiscal cliff."
The Internal Revenue Service has to both update numerous forms and to complete programming and testing of its processing systems, according to a news release.
"We have worked hard to open tax season as soon as possible," IRS Acting Commissioner Steven T. Miller stated in the release. "This date ensures we have the time we need to update and test our processing systems."
"The IRS was able to anticipate some of the changes and adjust systems quickly," Devine, based in St. Louis, stated in an email response to questions from The News. "However, other forms require more extensive form and programming changes, resulting in a number of forms first being accepted somewhere in the late February to March timeframe."
"They (the forms) will be posted on IRS.gov as they become available," Devine stated. "Paper copies will follow. People are urged to check the IRS website as updates will post there."
Originally, Starks said, the IRS indicated it expected to begin accepting returns Jan. 22, "which is already about a week to 10 days later than we usually start."
Whether filed electronically or on paper, the IRS won't begin processing returns before Jan. 30, so there is no advantage, IRS officials said, to filing on paper before the opening date.
Taxpayers will receive refunds fastest by using e-file with direct deposit.
"The best option for taxpayers is to file electronically," Miller stated,
Even with the delay, the "vast majority of tax filers -- more than 120 million households -- should be able to start filing tax returns starting Jan 30," according to the IRS statement.
For those who use one or more of about 30 special forms, however, the delay will be longer.
This group includes people claiming residential or vehicle energy credits, depreciation of property or general business credits.
Others who will be affected by the extended delay, Starks said, will include rental property owners, farmers and the self-employed.
Most in this group, the IRS notes, file more complex tax returns and typically file closer to the April 15 deadline anyway, or obtain an extension.
The IRS will be able to accept tax returns affected by the late Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) patch as well as the three major "extender" provisions for people claiming the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition and fees deduction and educator expenses deduction.
"We all groaned," Starks said on receiving the news of the delay.
"We can still prepare returns," Starks noted. "We can complete them and get them done. We just can't immediately file them."
IRS forms that are not expected to be available until late February or March include:
Form 3800 General Business Credit
Form 4136 Credit for Federal Tax Paid on Fuels
Form 4562 Depreciation and Amortization (Including Information on Listed Property)
Form 5074 Allocation of Individual Income Tax to Guam or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
Form 5471 Information Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations
Form 5695 Residential Energy Credits
Form 5735 American Samoa Economic Development Credit
Form 5884 Work Opportunity Credit
Form 6478 Credit for Alcohol Used as Fuel
Form 6765 Credit for Increasing Research Activities
Form 8396 Mortgage Interest Credit
Form 8582 Passive Activity Loss Limitations
Form 8820 Orphan Drug Credit
Form 8834 Qualified Plug-in Electric and Electric Vehicle Credit
Form 8839 Qualified Adoption Expenses
Form 8844 Empowerment Zone and Renewal Community Employment Credit
Form 8845 Indian Employment Credit
Form 8859 District of Columbia First-Time Homebuyer Credit
Form 8864 Biodiesel and Renewable Diesel Fuels Credit
Form 8874 New Markets Credits
Form 8900 Qualified Railroad Track Maintenance Credit
Form 8903 Domestic Production Activities Deduction
Form 8908 Energy Efficient Home Credit
Form 8909 Energy Efficient Appliance Credit
Form 8910 Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit
Form 8911 Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Property Credit
Form 8912 Credit to Holders of Tax Credit Bonds
Form 8923 Mine Rescue Team Training Credit
Form 8932 Credit for Employer Differential Wage Payments
Form 8936 Qualified Plug-in Electric Drive Motor Vehicle Credit
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